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All About Uranus for Kids: Astronomy and Space for Children – FreeSchool


You’re watching FreeSchool! Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, is
the third-largest planet in the solar system, after Jupiter and Saturn, with a diameter
about 4 times the Earth’s. Like the two larger planets, Uranus is made largely of hydrogen
and helium, but it also has many more icy compounds made of water, ammonia, and methane,
as well as other materials. Because of this, Uranus is sometimes referred to as an “ice
giant.” Uranus has the coldest atmosphere of any planet
in the solar system, even though it is not the farthest planet from the sun, with temperatures
of about -371 degrees F or -224 Celsius. Unlike Neptune, Uranus does not generate much internal
heat. As a result, the weather on Uranus is mostly calm when compared to the feverish
activity of the other gas giants. In fact, at one time Uranus was called ‘the most boring
planet in the solar system!’ The exception is the weather produced during
seasonal changes. Uranus is more than 1.7 billion miles or about 3 billion kilometers
from the sun, and traces such a huge path around it that it takes 84 Earth years for
Uranus to travel once around the sun. That means that each season lasts for 21 years!
In addition, Uranus is tilted much, much more than the earth is. Uranus is the only planet
in the solar system to be tilted so far that it is rotating nearly sideways in its orbit!
It is also one of only two planets in the solar system – Venus is the other – to rotate
in a direction opposite most of the planets. This tilt makes the seasonal changes on Uranus
extreme. During winter and summer, even though the planet continues to rotate at regular
17-hour intervals, the summer side faces constantly towards the sun, and the winter side stays
in complete darkness. As the seasons change to spring and fall and sunlight touches parts
of the planet that haven’t seen light for 21 years, the weather begins to change, causing
an increase in storms and cloud formations, with winds of up to 560 miles or 900 kilometers
per hour recorded. Only one spacecraft has ever flown by Uranus:
Voyager 2, which passed the planet in 1986. It just so happened that at that time the
northern hemisphere of Uranus was in winter, and so the images that Voyager 2 recorded
were of an almost featureless blue planet. In the years since then, the seasons have
changed, and Uranus has revealed more interesting weather patterns. Although it is possible to see Uranus with
the unaided eye in good viewing conditions, it was never recognized by ancient peoples
as a planet because it was so dim and moved so slowly. It was Sir William Herschel who
first recognized that it was not a star in 1781, making Uranus the first planet to be
discovered with a telescope. At first, Herschel named it ‘Georgium Sidus,’ or ‘George’s Star’
in honor of King George III, but other astronomers felt that the planet’s name should stay in
line with the mythological origins of the other planets. The name Uranus was selected,
after the Greek god of the sky, and less than 70 years after its discovery Uranus is what
the planet was universally called. Uranus has a system of 13 faint rings, and
27 moons circling around it. William Herschel first claimed to see a ring around Uranus
in 1789, but rings were not confirmed until nearly 200 years later in 1977. Herschel also
discovered two of the planet’s 5 large moons. Some of Uranus’s small moons were still being
discovered as recently as the early 21st century! There is no knowing what future discoveries
are in store from this mysterious planet, but scientists continue to study and observe
in an attempt to understand it. I hope you enjoyed learning about Uranus,
the sideways planet. Goodbye till next time!

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